Cultural Awareness Print or save as PDF

How is it defined?

Cultural awareness refers to students’ understanding of the differences between themselves and those from other cultures in their shared beliefs, values, attitudes, and behaviours, and how these differences affect how they learn individually and in groups (Davis & Wright, 2009; Earley & Ang, 2003). Cultural self-awareness refers to a person’s appreciation of how their culture affects their personal beliefs and actions. Positive reflection and “sense-making” of cultural experiences contribute to stronger cultural identification and, in doing so, contribute to well-being (Lu & Wan, 2018). Cultural identity is defined as identification with a particular cultural group (Usborne & Taylor, 2014). Stronger identification with a culture is positively associated with well-being outcomes, such as self-esteem, sense of life purpose, and self-confidence (Martinez & Dukes, 1997).

Why is it important?

  • The development of cultural awareness involves a willingness to explore one’s own cultural norms, reflect upon biases, and acknowledge the impacts of cultural background (Moore, 2018).
  • Sharing cultural experiences with peers from the same or different heritage can bolster one’s own sense of cultural identity (Vietze, Juang, & Schachner, 2019).
  • A clearly defined and confidently understood cultural identity is an important aspect of personal identity which is consistently linked with positive well-being (Usborne & Taylor, 2014).
  • Cultural identity is associated with more positive life satisfaction and school values (Vietze, Juang, & Schachner, 2019).
  • Ethnic identity, and the sense of ethnic pride, commitment, and involvement it entails, has a protective effect on one’s mental health, buffering any stress brought on by discrimination (Mossakowski, 2003).

How do we measure it?

In the OurSCHOOL Secondary school survey, students respond to Likert questions about their values, attitudes and behaviours concerning their own and other cultures. The data are scaled on a 10-point scale, and students with a score greater than or equal to 6 (i.e., slightly higher than neutral) are considered to have cultural awareness. The results are reported as “the percentage of students who possess an understanding of their own culture” and “the percentage of students who possess an understanding of other cultures.”


Davis, K. D., & Wright, J. C. (2009). Culture and cultural intelligence. In K. D. Davis (Ed.), Cultural intelligence and leadership: An introduction for Canadian forces leaders. Kingston, ON: Canadian Defence Academy Press.

Earley, C., & Ang, S. (2003). Cultural intelligence: Individual interactions across cultures. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Lu, C., & Wan, C. (2018). Cultural self-Awareness as awareness of culture’s influence on the self: Implications for cultural identification and well-being. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 44(6), 823-837.

Martinez, R. O., & Dukes, R. L. (1997). The effects of ethnic identity, ethnicity, and gender on adolescent well-being. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 26(5), 503-516.

Moore, B. A. (2018). Developing special educator cultural awareness through critically reflective professional learning community collaboration. Teacher Education and Special Education, 41(3), 243-253.

Mossakowski, K. N. (2003). Coping with perceived discrimination: Does ethnic identity protect mental health? Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 44(3), 318-331.

Usborne, E., & de la Sablonnière, R. (2014). Understanding my culture means understanding myself: The function of cultural identity clarity for personal identity clarity and personal psychological well‐being. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 44(4), 436-458.

Usborne, E., & Taylor, D. M. (2014). The role of cultural identity clarity for self-concept clarity, self-esteem, and subjective well-being. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36(7), 883-897.

Vietze, J., Juang, L. P., & Schachner, M. K. (2019). Peer cultural socialisation: A resource for minority students’ cultural identity, life satisfaction, and school values. Intercultural Education, 30(5), 579-598.